Latest witness in bridge inquiry adds little

William "Pat" Schuber, a Port Authority commissioner, said he had dismissed early criticism about bridge lane closures as political.
William "Pat" Schuber, a Port Authority commissioner, said he had dismissed early criticism about bridge lane closures as political. (AP)
Posted: June 05, 2014

TRENTON - A Port Authority functionary who became the bête noire of a key legislative investigator for initially playing down inquiries into lane closures at the George Washington Bridge said Tuesday that he knew nothing about that episode or others involving the troubled agency, leaving his questioners frustrated.

The closest thing to a revelation at Tuesday's hearing was that former Port Authority Chairman David Samson once called Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) a "jerk" in an e-mail.

Shortly after the lanes were reopened, Weinberg wrote a letter to William "Pat" Schuber - a member of the board of commissioners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a former Bergen County executive and state assemblyman - asking what had happened.

Weinberg, now cochair of the legislative inquiry committee, has alleged that Schuber was not responsive.

In testimony before the panel Tuesday, Schuber recounted telling Weinberg that he was concerned that the Borough of Fort Lee had not received any notice of what was to come.

At Weinberg's request, Schuber said, he had contacted Fort Lee's mayor, Mark Sokolich, to address the mayor's concerns about the lane closures in September that caused days of traffic jams in his borough.

Samson, who got a copy of Weinberg's letter, sent Schuber an e-mail offering his assistance in responding and referred to Weinberg as a jerk in the process. The e-mail exchange, revealed Tuesday, was obtained by legislators under a subpoena.

Schuber, a Republican, said Tuesday that he felt the criticism was politically motivated and that he did not pay much attention to either Weinberg's concerns or a Sept. 13 internal Port Authority e-mail from the agency's executive director, Patrick Foye, an appointee of the New York governor, who warned that the lane closures that month might have violated the law.

Weinberg and Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), the committee's chairs, would soon show up at Port Authority meetings seeking more information.

"I saw this very quickly becoming a political football," Schuber said. In an e-mail to Samson, Schuber suggested that Weinberg might still be upset that he defeated her in 1998 in a race for Bergen County executive.

The legislators have sought to interrogate higher-ups at the Port Authority for some time. The investigation into the lane closures grew out of the Assembly Transportation Committee's inquiry into controversial 2011 toll increases. The Port Authority still has not responded to some of that committee's subpoenas, Wisniewski said.

Schuber said he believed the toll increases were justified but was not aware of an alleged campaign to inflate the size of the hikes when they were proposed so that Gov. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could then look better in calling for smaller ones.

Also on Tuesday, Christie officially nominated John J. Degnan, a former state attorney general, to replace Samson as chair of the Port Authority. The governor also nominated George Laufenberg, a union official, to the Port Authority.

As the agency gets new leadership, Schuber said he supports changes. For example, he said, he thought the Port Authority's commissioners should be responsible for choosing its chairman and vice chairman. The governors of New York and New Jersey currently appoint those officials.


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846 @AndrewSeidman

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